These Structures Take 3D Printing To A Whole New Level


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3D printed house by ICON (Photo Credit: ICON)

3D printing has come a long way since Massachusetts Institute of Technology students Jim Bredt and Tim Anderson modified an inkjet printer to extrude a binding solution on to a bed of powder. The technology, which works by “printing,” or laying down, successive layers of material until the object is created, has been used to build a wide variety of things – from electronic devices to jewelry to artificial organs. Now, 3D printing is escalating to a whole new level with the creation of homes, art installations, and even barracks for the U.S. Marine Corps.

Among the pioneers to take the technology to new heights is Austin, Texas-based construction startup ICON. In March 2018, the company unveiled a beautiful 3D printed house – the first to receive a US permit – at the South By Southwest festival. The 650-square-foot home featured a bedroom, a bathroom, a living room, and even a shaded porch. In other words, it looked and felt like any other house except for two major differences – the structure took less than 24 hours to build from the ground up and cost just $10,000! ICON, which believes it can reduce the construction cost to $4,000, has partnered with housing nonprofit New Story to create the world’s first community of 100 “printed” homes for impoverished residents in El Salvador by the latter half of 2019!

Photo Credit: Branch Technology

Though the 20-foot-tall, 42-foot-wide ONE C1TY pavilion, unveiled in Nashville, Tennessee on July 18, 2018, took 10 days to “print,” it is, according to creator Branch Technology, the world’s largest 3D structure. The impressive art installation, commissioned by Dallas-based developer Cambridge, is made with carbon fiber–reinforced polymer and weighs over 3,200 pounds. It can withstand 1 inch of ice buildup, up to 12 inches of snow, and 90 mph of wind load!

More recently, on August 24, 2018, the US Marine Corps unveiled a 500-square-foot barrack in Champaign, Illinois, which was “printed” with concrete. The joint venture between the Additive Manufacturing Team at Marine Corps Systems Command and Marines from I Marine Expeditionary Force, which took 40 hours to create, is the world’s first 3D printed structure built onsite.

“This exercise had never been done before,” says Capt. Matthew Friedell, Additive Manufacturing project officer. “People have printed buildings and large structures, but they haven’t done it onsite and all at once. This is the first-in-the-world, onsite continuous concrete print.”

3D barrack unveiled by the US Marine Corps. (Photo Credit:

Friedell says the first 3D barrack took 40 hours because the printer was being supervised and actively filled with concrete by Marines. He believes the job could easily be accomplished by a robot and completed in 24 hours or less. In comparison, each wood barrack takes, on average, a crew of ten Marines, 5 days to build. “In active, or simulated, combat environments, we don’t want Marines out there swinging hammers and holding plywood up,” says Friedell. “Having a concrete printer that can make buildings on demand is a huge advantage for Marines operating down range.” In addition to barracks, the Marine Corps, often the first responders to areas hit by natural disasters, can also use the technology to build cheap, temporary shelters for displaced residents.

The advantages of 3D printed structures go beyond just speed and cost. Using the technology is also better for the environment. “The printer deposits only the concrete where it is needed, which decreases the use of cement,” says Eindhoven University of Technology researcher Theo Salet. “This reduces CO2 emissions as cement production has a very high carbon footprint.” With all these advantages, don’t be surprised to see 3D printed homes and buildings “plopping down” in neighborhoods worldwide.



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